Ringing lush, but not quite true

April 05, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Spectacle.

That's Pink Floyd's specialty.

Other bands may live or die by their hits, but not the Floyd. This band only cracked the American Top 40 twice -- in 1973 with "Money," and again in 1980 with "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)" -- and yet has so many fans that tickets for its current stadium tour sold out almost as soon as they went on sale. Why? Because the fans know that no concert tops Pink Floyd when it comes to visual dazzle.

Likewise, what will most likely push the new Pink Floyd album, "The Division Bell" (Columbia 64200, arriving in stores today), to the top of the charts is its spectacular sound, not its singles potential. In fact, nothing on the album sounds even remotely like a pop hit -- certainly not "Keep Talking," which seems to be the current single largely because the rhythm guitar and backing vocals bear a vague resemblance to "Another Brick in the Wall."

But to tell the truth, hooks have never mattered as much to Floyd fans as the sheer sonic splendor of the band's music, and this album definitely delivers on that front. Between Bob Ezrin's meticulous production and David Gilmour's exquisite guitar tone, The Division Bell" all but asks the listener to turn off the lights, turn up the stereo and simply get lost in the sound.

Take, for instance, the way the guitars surge and billow at the beginning of "Take It Back," floating through the mix like great ghostly clouds of sound. Or how about the lush, stylized funk of "What Do You Want From Me," with its thick cushion of vocals, rich, rubbery bass line and vividly dimensional guitar tone? The deeper you get into its meticulously crafted soundscape, the better "The Division Bell" seems, until each perfectly recorded sound seems almost an end in itself.

But shouldn't there be more to it than just good sound? Of course there should. But that's where the Floyd comes up short, because amid all the whooshing guitars and swelling synths, there's precious little in the way of interesting ideas or memorable melodies.

Granted, there is a theme of sorts to the album: the ways in which a lack of communication keep people apart. Trouble is, the band doesn't, er, have much to say beyond suggesting that people would get along better if they listened to one another. And for that they need 11 songs?

Listeners with time on their hands may want to sift through the lyrics for sniping references to departed Floyd bassist Roger Waters, who has carried on a lengthy and vituperative feud with his former bandmates.

"Poles Apart," for instance, could be Gilmour's comment on Waters' post-Pink career; how better to read

lines like "Did you know . . . it was all going to go so wrong for you/And did you see it was all going to be so right for me"?

Or you could try to divine a sense of the Floydian Weltanschauung by comparing the post-Berlin Wall world described in "A Great Day for Freedom" to the loss-of-innocence scenario sketched out in "High Hopes." Maybe if you worked really hard at it, you could come up with something less smug and superficial than the songs themselves.

Why bother, though? Because when you get right down to it, all Pink Floyd's lyrics ultimately need to supply is enough conceptual glue to hold the album together. Otherwise, all we'd be left with is an album of instrumentals.

Not that the nonvocal approach would be such a bad thing. "The Division Bell" has two instrumentals as it is, and the moody, slow-boiling "Cluster One" suggests that Gilmour is a far more articulate guitarist than lyricist.

Let's face it -- as fun as it is to hear "The Division Bell," the album doesn't really offer much to listen to. Because without some sense of content or melodic invention, all we're left with is a high-budget stereo demonstration album.

HEAR PINK FLOYD

To hear excerpts from the new Pink Floyd album "The Division Bell," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6204 after you hear the greeting.

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